Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo’s repeated reminders to chief ministers to ensure the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in their states is hardly having the desired effect. But Deo is persisting in his effort. This time, he has written to Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik citing a specific example of a tribal village in Kalahandi district. Deo has brought up the case of Jamguda village the inhabitants of which are heavily dependent on forest and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for their subsistence. He has pointed out that the villagers were facing a lot of harassment by forest officials while collecting bamboo.
He has said that the forest department has refused to give transit permit to let the villagers sell the bamboo, worth more than Rs 1 lakh, in the market despite a decision to this effect by the gram sabha — an assembly of all adults of the village — which is the all empowered body in a forest and tribal village. “In the absence of transit permits, buyers can’t transport bamboo from outside the gram sabha jurisdiction and there are also chances of losing bamboo worth Rs 1 lakh by the gram sabha of Jamguda,” Deo has written in his communication.
Only last month, Deo had written to all CMs to expedite the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which, he said, was still to bring benefits to the majority of forest dwellers in the country. He had said that the slow and tardy implementation of the Act went “against our professed adherence to the law”. In his latest letter to Patnaik, Deo has reiterated those points.
“As you are aware, in 2006, Parliament unanimously passed the historic ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act’. This watershed legislation has been enacted with the laudable objective to remedy the historical injustice done to the tribals/ adivasis and other forest dwelling citizens of our country. However, its implementation continues to suffer from many problems, as a result of which the majority of forest dwellers are not receiving their rights. This goes against our professed adherence to rule of law. Recognition of community rights, such as rights to minor forest produce, grazing areas, water bodies, habitats of primitive tribal groups/pre-agricultural communities, pastoralists’ routes etc and crucial right of the forest dwelling communities to protect and manage their forests has been recognised or respected (and in some cases illegal conditions have been imposed on this right). As a result, large numbers of forest dwellers are facing harassment by forest authorities,” he has written. “Keeping in view the above facts, I request you to kindly issue necessary instructions to the concerned authorities to allow unfettered right of transit for sale of bamboo by gram panchayat to local buyers which is a right given to them under the FRA Act. If a clear signal is given to implementing authorities that all rights of forest dwellers must be adhered to and that the democratic process under this law must be respected, the forest dwellers of this country may finally find succour and could actually lay claim to their rights and earn livelihood,” Deo’s letter says.
Source: The Indian Express by Amitabh Sinha, New Delhi